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Boris Akunin in Amsterdam: "Why should I defend Vladimir Putin? I never liked him, I consider him an enemy of Russia"


On 8 June, Boris Akunin attended a charity event at Westerkerk Church in Amsterdam. The event was organised by The Meeting Point agency.

The main theme was supposed to be his new novel, The Pit, released a few weeks ago, but the reality was a  sermon with a sequel, about the most pressing issues of our time.

At the very beginning of the evening the writer talked about the tragedy that had just happened in Nova Kakhovka, which had just been  flooded due to the explosion at the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric station on the Dnieper.

"I am used to thinking that concrete actions are better than any loud and heartfelt words. Helping those who need help, that is exactly what we are doing today, right now. All the money from the ticket sales will go to the True Russia humanitarian organisation, which was created to help people who have been affected by the war.  I will ask the director of True Russia, Oleg Radzinsky, for this money in order to help the victims of this tragedy," said Boris Akunin (real name: Grigori Chkhartishvili).

Despite the fact that the main theme was the presentation of his new novel "The Pit", the writer chose a different scenario, as many people have already read the book. He decided instead to talk about his not yet published project, and in the second part of the evening - to answer questions. Without waiting for the second part, Boris Akunin immediately responded to one of the most popular questions: "How would Erast Fandorin behave now, in 2023?"

"I have my answer prepared in advance. So I'll answer up front, please don't ask me that question anymore. I say Erast Fandorin and his loyal assistant Masahiro Shibata would sneak into the bunker, kidnap the dictator and deliver him to you here in the next town (The Hague - ed.)," the writer said.

He then proceeded to read,  not from his new book, but from a yet-to-be-published interactive audio performance, Basho the Frog, which takes its name from a hokku by the famous Japanese poet Basho:

Furuike ya

Kawazu tobikomu

Mizu no oto

Old pond.

A frog jumped.

The sound of water.

The listener, on the app or on the website, will have to make a choice after each fragment, according to this choice, the action will move either one way or the other. "Since I don't have any buttons on me, I will ask you to raise your hand to show which option you vote for," joked Akunin.

"Basho's Frog" reveals the same detective plot, which is played out with a Georgian flavour in one case and a Jewish one in the other. The guests decided to go with the Jewish scenario.

When Boris Akunin finished reading the passage, he invited the audience to move on to questions on three topics of their choice: literature, socio-political topics and history. Most hands were raised for "history", but many of the resulting questions still focused on the current situation.

On "Russians' indifference to their own fate"

I have thought a lot about this, but I do not think that this is an exclusively Russian quality. This quality is inherent in some nations, countries where consciousness is at an infantile level. This is a manifestation of infantilism, unwillingness to think about the future, to make some plans, to prepare something there and so on.

Infantilism as a characteristic of this or that ethnography is not because these people are flawed, not at all, but because they live in  a system, which deliberately kills the habit of making decisions.

Because freedom is always freedom of choice. If in society you are punished all the time when you try to be free, when your initiative is crushed, infantilism develops in you. Because the power is like an adult and you are like a child. It is a very harmful and dangerous quality.

"The country of Russia is a victim of the state"

As someone who grew up in the Soviet Union, I have always made a division between state and country. For me these are completely separate things. The relationship with the state has always been complicated. In times such as these, simply hostile. But at the same time, the country of Russia, from my point of view, is a victim of this state.

I very often get letters from readers in Russia reproaching me with the words: "How can you go against your own country? It is a catastrophic substitution of notions. When people write about this, they don't mean the country, they mean the state.

What is the Russian state today? It is a dictatorship. When one defends the state, one defends Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Because Russia is an absolute monarchy, autocratic, all power in the hands of one man.

Why on earth would I defend Vladimir Putin? I have never liked him, I consider him an enemy of Russia. I consider the modern Russian state an enemy of the country of Russia, which is ruining it. He has done it irreparable damage in the eyes of the world.

I have hope. This country has overthrown some rotten politicians many times,  it is like that bunny: "We brought it home - it turned out to be alive!"

About the virtual country

In my view, creating a kind of virtual Russia is a necessary thing for all of us. First of all on a cultural level.

A great many people who were part of living Russian culture have left. Because they don't want to live in a dictatorship, because they are against this regime, because they are against the war. But they are disconnected, they are separate.

I think it would be very good to create some cultural sites where free Russian culture could continue to exist. Where music, films, literature, and art could appear, where some kind of action could take place.

I have a long-held dream of establishing  all kinds of online concerts. When, wherever you live, you can buy a ticket for a small amount of money and you can attend here and now, I don't know, Boris Grebenshchikov's flats. It's technically quite easy to arrange.

About violence

I can't stand it at all when the strong hurt the weak, I don't like that. But when a weak person fights back - I like that very much. I don't think you should turn the other cheek.

About death

One of the joys of getting older is that you have fewer and fewer fears. The older I get, the more the things that once seemed scary crumble and at some age, the fear of death disappears. From my point of view, the scariest thing is losing your self-respect.

On how the new novel The Pit came about

Last December, during a routine medical check-up, I received a CT scan, from which it was clear that I had multiple lung metastases. The doctor said there wasn't much time left.

Instead of being gloomy, sad and fearful about it, I immediately told myself that since I didn't have much time left, I'd rather spend it doing something nice.

First of all, I got off the diet I had been on all my life and started drinking beer and eating bread and butter. Secondly I stopped going to the gym and walked up to the 33rd floor with a stopwatch.

And so as not to think, during the short evenings, about scans, tests and biopsies, I decided that ... I promised that,I would not write a novel about Fandorin, instead  I'll get up and write little things I have promised someone. The new book ended up taking up all my time. I wrote this novel in a month and a half, because my medical saga stretched for a month and a half.

 As soon as I finished it, the doctor called me and said: "You know, it's so rare, but we were wrong about the initial diagnosis. You're not ready to die."

And somehow, suddenly I was shaken up. It turned out that I had gained six kilos in that month and a half, was completely out of physical shape, and on top of that - I had a novel on my hands, completely light-hearted, in keeping with the spirit of the times and what's going on now. That's how the novel came to be. It's a bit strange, to tell you the truth. If you read it, you'll see.

About the characters

The older I get, the more I feel like Masa. <...>

The older I get, the less I'm interested in supermen and romantic heroes and the more I'm interested in reliable people.

Masa's main quality is that he's such a real, reliable Japanese person, a solid person, a person who doesn't crumble. He has his own internal strength.

About the key to happiness

From my point of view, the key to happiness is proper upbringing. Something that humanity does not do at all.

Nobody teaches us to be complete human beings.

Pedagogy and upbringing are very much geared towards making the child comfortable in society. That is why most people go through life without discovering or understanding why the fuck they were born into this world and what was in it. And that is unbearable.

By: Veronika Dulova

Photos: meetingpoint.benelux

More photos here